MRFF Targets Army Suicide Prevention

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation recently “amended” its lawsuit against the Department of Defense.  It made one substantive addition, saying Army Specialist Chalker had

sought relief for his claims by invoking an intra-army administrative process. He has exhausted this alternative remedy but has obtained no substantial relief.

The premise of the cryptically vague statement (that Chalker used the Army’s in-place grievance systems) was already included in the lawsuit, so it does not appear that an amendment was judicially required.  The announcement of the changes to the lawsuit–which was only filed approximately three months earlier–did highlight the suit in the press for a short time.

The other changes, upon which the MRFF has focused attention, have been additions to the long list of allegations (unrelated to the primary complaint) of Christian endorsement in the US military, which founder Michael Weinstein says is a “national security threat:”

The military command and control of our nation’s nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional and laser-guided weapons has been unconstitutionally compromised by a tsunami of unbridled fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism, triumphalism and proselytizing.

[Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer, errs in that the US has declared it has no offensive biological weapons.]  One of the primary additions in the amended suit, repeated nearly verbatim on fellow advocate Jason Leopold’s website, is so misleading as to nearly be dishonest.  From the lawsuit:

The 2008 Army Suicide Prevention Manual…promotes religion over no religion, Christianity over other religions, and instructs both chaplains and behavioral health providers to promote “religiosity” as a necessary element of suicide prevention. The manual…states that “Chaplains also need to openly advocate behavioral health as a resource,” but then adds that “Behavioral health providers need to openly advocate spirituality and religiosity as resiliency factors.”

From the article, Weinstein said:

the PowerPoint presentation “is not only an unconstitutional promotion of Christianity for the soldiers who are mandated to attend it, but for the behavioral health providers and non-Christian chaplains who must present it.”

The suit, and Leopold’s commentary, carefully edit out the surrounding sentences.  The referenced text (which is publicly available, despite not being authorized for distribution outside the US Army) within its context follows:

Chaplains can certainly speak from their own faith traditions, but need to remember to be inclusive of the different beliefs of the audience. Chaplains also need to openly advocate behavioral health as a resource.  Behavioral health providers need to openly advocate spirituality and religiosity as resiliency factors. This briefing will be more effective if both providers are present during the briefing.

Rather than advocating a specific religion, then, the manual specifically advises Chaplains to be inclusive of different beliefs (notice, it does not say faiths; the implication is that a different belief may include no religious faith).

In addition, even a superficial reading of the next three sentences demonstrates that the emphasis is not that health providers should promote religion.  It is evident that the intent is for each presenter to validate the suicide prevention methodology of the other — emphasizing the number of legitimate, varied options available to the soldiers and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help.  This is one of the Army’s stated goals: emphasizing a “multidisciplinary approach” to suicide prevention.  The briefing communicates that a soldier, at his discretion, can go to a health provider or a Chaplain, both of which may be able to provide legitimate means of help.

The US Army has faced a significant increase in suicides over the past few years.  In response, it has expanded the variety of suicide prevention programs, advertised those programs to soldiers, and has also emphasized that leaders should work to reduce the potential stigma of prevention resources.  A short list of activities that Army units may have conducted during the Suicide Awareness Week/Month (September 2008) included:

Static displays by local helping agencies; screening services by VA Mental Health personnel; family picnics with special speakers hosting a community health fair; ACE suicide prevention classes; chaplain presentations to unit leadership on leadership responsibilities and stigma reduction.

The Chaplaincy is but one tool in a wide array of resources that soldiers have to combat the rise in the suicide rate in the US Army.  (In the Army’s “A Leader’s Guide to Suicide Prevention,” a Chaplain is mentioned only once; the pamphlet instead focuses on mental and medical health professionals.)  The Army has not been foisting Christianity or religion on soldiers; it has been foisting suicide prevention on them, and it has acknowledged religious resources as one potential suicide prevention measure. 

Even so, there are reputable, non-religious, non-activist organizations that recognize for some people, “religiosity” may be a tool in suicide prevention.  It is unconscionable that some would seek to deny soldiers the ability to hear about what some believe may be a valid suicide prevention resource.

In addition, Chaplains act not only as counselors but also spiritual advisors to those military members who desire them.  In a group forum, a Chaplain and a behavioral health provider (the Army’s recommended setup for the presentation) can speak to the theistic and the a-theistic without demeaning or promoting any faith or non-faith system.  And again, the religious undertones of the Chaplaincy’s role in suicide prevention are but one of a variety of resources the Army promotes. “Religiosity” is presented as neither the sole nor superior solution to the Army’s suicide problem.

In perhaps the greatest irony, the MRFF press release indicates they filed the amended suit on 29 December 2008.  The allegations over the Suicide Prevention Manual became moot a mere two days later, as the Army manual specifically says it is valid only for the calendar year and is to be revised annually.

Contrary to the implications of the allegations, the military (and Chaplains) can use religious terminology, religious references, and can speak to the virtues of belief systems–even when they are addressing groups or mandatory formations.  In fact, this very methodology is used to train military members on religion and religious sensitivity, with respect to both internal military procedures and relationships with both adversaries and allies.  (Also, an official, mandatory-attendance military formation recently relied heavily on Taoism, though it is unlikely anyone will complain.) 

These actions are permissible under military regulations and the Constitution; they do not establish a religion nor demonstrate that one is favored over another (or none).  Instead, the allegations demonstrate the lengths to which opponents may go to remove any hint of Christian presence in the military.

3 comments

  • Cutting to the chase, the above folderol is yet more boiler plate intended to camouflage the true intent of today’s bloated Evangelical Protestant Chaplain Corps.

    This purposely overstaffed arm of the Dominion Christian movement, along with members of the Officer’s Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ Military Mission, and other Evangelical organizations, utilize any and all opportunities to conduct illegal, overt and coercive proselytizing of junior members of the armed forces and cadet contingents at our service academies.

    But this proselytizing is not just aimed at the “unchurched.” but even other Christians who are not “Christian enough” in order to create a uniform and lock-step military.

    The continual parsing by militant Christian operatives of the actions filed against such blatant violators of Constitutional Law is just one part of the structured effort to deflect the spotlight of examination from the heart of the Dominionist proselytizing effort.

    Campus Crusade for Christ, Military Mission, makes no bones about it. In their “Six Strategic Objectives,” just two of which pretty much outline a plan to use America’s military might to achieve Christian world domination.

    1. Evangelize and Disciple All Enlisted Members of the US Military. Ministry at each basic training center and beyond. Transform our culture through the US Military.

    6. Change Continents for Christ. Transform nations of world through the militaries of world. Train, Equip, and Partner with indigenous leaders to establish strategic sending platforms in each region of the world.

    The key word is “Disciple.” Disciple is a misnomer. Dominionist’s do not seek disciples but rather obedient sycophants primed to obey Christian leaders, tenets and a “higher authority” and in the processs, abandon their oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

    This no longer a matter of religious freedom but rather an insidious plan to co-opt the armed forces, usurp the constitution and take under their control weapons of immense destructive power.

    This is, of course, sedition of the most egregious nature, much of it either below the radar or neatly camouflaged by senior officers of the Dominionist ilk.

    Organizations such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, People United for the Separation of Church and State and others have exposed much of this sedition and despite the best efforts to quash any such exposure, have made a number of important inroads into uncovering what may be America’s most dangerous moment in history.

    As more and more Americans become acutely aware of Dominionist activities they are at first in a state of disbelief. Only when graphically demonstrated does the total picture bring home to even the most resistant the destructive nature of this movement.

    Such exposure may be readily viewed at militaryreligiousfreedom.org.

  • //The announcement of the change, however, did highlight the year-old lawsuit in the press for a short time.//

    This lawsuit was initially filed in late September 2008. It’s not even four months old.

  • You are correct. Your suit was momentarily confused with the Hall lawsuit. A more accurate statement would be

    The announcment of the changes to the lawsuit–which was only filed approximately three months earlier–did highlight the suit in the press for a short time.

    The post has been edited to correct the error.

    It is also worth noting that none of the new allegations (items L through P(1)–a typo resulted in two “Ps”) actually occurred in that three months; they all occurred prior to the initial filing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *